So far this season, Kendrys Morales has appeared in 39 games, accumulating 162 plate appearances. He has been... not very good. His season slash line rests at an ultra meager .234/.259/.325. For comparison, last year after 162 plate appearances Morales was hitting .268/.358/.415. His 2014 performance represents a precipitous decline. What's going on?
In attempting to determine a potential reason for this sharp drop in offensive production, it seems as though Morales may be pressing a bit this year. (This wouldn't be surprising; it is a contract season for Morales and he's coming off a tumultuous off-season which may have left him feeling as though he has "something to prove"... but this is just speculation on my part.) Other explanations could be that he just isn't seeing the ball as well this season or his swing has gotten longer/slower. I haven't seen him play very much this year, so I cannot speak to any of this with any real authority... but I can look at the numbers. And the numbers aren't pretty.
Morales's swing rate this season is the highest of career (51.4%) and his O-contact% is considerably higher than it has been each of the last two years (60.4% vs. ~55.7%). As a result, he's been making weaker contact and hasn't punished nearly as many fastballs in 2014. This has always been a large part of his game. His BABIP is more than 30 points below his career average, he's fallen victim to a dramatic increase in his infield fly ball percentage (already hitting as many infield pop ups this year as he did all of last season – six), and his HR/FB% has been reduced to 2.2% (only a single home run on 45 fly balls put in play). Additionally, his walk rate is also only half of what it was last year. None of these statistics point to a hitter who appears to be comfortable and/or confident at the plate. Morales has been bad. I should mention that he's played just enough this year for these numbers to begin to stabilize, so this poor performance is most likely real, as opposed to simply being a "slow start".
Some people are pointing out that Morales missed spring training this year, so he might just now be getting into the swing of things. I guess this might have some truth to it. (Nevermind the fact that the average starter for the Mariners had 50-60 PA in spring training as opposed to well over 100.) In his last ~50 plate appearances his slash line is less atrocious (.265/.288/.388), but that's a small sample and it's still not good. Regardless, Morales is a part of the team now. We shall embrace him accordingly! But what does this mean for the Mariners going forward?
Lloyd has said that Morales will mostly DH, with Morrison/Hart platooning at 1B. To see how much of an "upgrade" Morales represents, we can start by looking at the numbers for the players that the M's have used at designated hitter. If you click on the link, you can see that the DH position for the Mariners has been just dreadful this season. Corey Hart has taken about half of the DH plate appearances so far, with a motley crew of others filling out the position. Embarrassingly, the only Mariners players who have posted an OPS above .600 (with at least 10 PAs) are Cano and... Endy Chavez. Obviously this is a position of need for the Mariners, but is Morales the answer?
|Mariners DH in 2014||94||395||40||8||32||33||86||0.196||0.277||0.293||0.569||-0.6|
|Morales in 2014||39||162||12||1||18||6||27||0.234||0.259||0.325||0.584||-0.9|
|Morales - ZiPS projection
Morales - Steamer
Hart - ZiPS
Hart - Steamer
According to the projections for the remainder of the season listed above... probably not. Morales is an answer, but he's probably not a good answer. Although both Hart and Morales are projected to improve in the second half (it would be hard for them not to), neither of them are expected to make much of an impact. Assuming the best case projection for Morales and the worst case projection for Hart, the gap is barely more than 0.5 WAR. Morales likely represents a very minimal upgrade for the Mariners, if any.
Additionally, this move shouldn't really be looked at as a simple swap of Morales for Hart. If Hart does end up playing at first semi-regularly this year (which seems unlikely), then his bat will still be in the lineup. If you like Logan Morrison, this move means that he'll probably see less playing time. It also suggests that Jesus Montero and/or Justin Smoak won't be getting any appreciable playing time in the near future. (This probably matters to some people?) Also, we should consider that the Mariners are now without Stephen Pryor. Maybe this doesn't matter very much since he's been underwhelming since returning from injury and young bullpen arms is a position of strength for the M's, but this still represents a chip that has been traded in.
Finally, Seattle now has ~$4 million less to work with when trying to put together any other deals as the trade deadline approaches. Given the somewhat stingy reputation that this front office has received over the last several years, $4 million represents a not insignificant chunk of change. Trading for Morales could adversely limit their flexibility to make a more impactful move going forward, which could ultimately end up hurting the team quite a bit.
Trading for Morales certainly isn't the end of the world. He's not going to prevent anyone who deserves playing time from playing and he's not going to make the team worse. The cost to get him, in terms of player cost, was well within reason. It's just that there are countless other moves that would've likely made much more sense and helped the team a lot more. If trading for Morales is THE move the Mariners make going into the trade deadline, then it's kind of a disaster. If that $4 million investment in Morales prevents the team from trading for a legitimate upgrade, then it's kind of a disaster. (Please don't be a disaster, Kendrys!) However, if this move is just the first of several... then maybe it's not bad. Only time will tell!